Archive for October, 2010

“Hallowgreen” Costume Contest

Posted on October 28th, 2010 by Tonia 2 Comments

We love Halloween here in the Itty Bitty household and always have. It was fun as a kid, and it’s still fun as an adult. 

My family has a long-standing tradition of homemade/handmade costumes.  They’ve gotten pretty elaborate at times…one year my mom and I constructed a ” headless body” out of cardboard, which sat on my shoulders.  I cut a hole in its “abdomen” and stick my head through it.  It really looked like I had been decapitated and was holding my own head.  We were so proud of our creation.  There was even fake blood around where the neck and head “used to be”.  I wore it to our homeschool group gathering, fully expecting to be a big hit, but I think I really grossed out all the cute little witches and superheros.  The following year we decided to tone it down and go with a homeschool-group-accepted princess costume.

This border-line-inapropriate-costume-trend all started when I was six years old and my parents took my brother and me trick-or-treating for the first time.  This was just a few years after we moved to the town I grew up in, so we were still considered new-comers there and not very many people knew us yet.  My mom spent days sewing us the most adorable little matching devil costumes you’ve ever seen.  We proudly marched around town together shouting the magic words and watching our pillow cases fill with high-fructose-corn-syrup-goodness.  And we promptly became the talk of the town…”Did you SEE what they dressed their kids up as for Halloween?  DEVILS!  Who ARE these people?”  Oops, Mom.

It took years to mend our reputation in town, but I think people have mostly gotten over it now, seeing as my parents are both on the church board and all.

So, in the spirit of a homemade Halloween {and in honor of my well-intentioned mom who bravely forged ahead with her risque costume creations despite public scrutiny}, we are hosting a costume contest here on the blog.  Send me photos of your homemade Halloween costume {toniasimeone at gmail dot com}.  The deadline is the Tuesday after Halloween- November 2nd.  The greenest costume {uses recycled materials, doesn’t create waste, wasn’t purchased at Walmart, etc.} wins the prize

A choice of:  one of these wrist-purses made from candy wrappers (your choice of color) -OR- this office set made from old newspapers!!


And if you’re wondering what my border-line-inappropriate costume is going to be this year, well, I’m dressing up as Lindsey Lohan Does Prison…orange jumpsuit and tie-dye fingernails included.

Composting 101 with Jared

Posted on October 27th, 2010 by Tonia 9 Comments

Remember when Mike and I visited my parents and I came back home all bummed about the fact that we didn’t have our own compost pile?  That was just one year ago, but it seems like ancient history.  So much has happened since then…we got married, we moved out of the city and into the woods, and, we started our first compost pile!! 

 We’re so excited about the fact that we can finally compost.  Cooking and eating together is even more enjoyable now because we no longer have to endure the awkward moment after every meal when we solemnly scrape our food scraps into the trash.  I always dreaded that moment.

It was very rewarding to scrape those scraps into our shiny new compost bucket for the first time.  However, almost immediately Mike and I realized we don’t know the first thing about composting.  I could just Google it and read a bunch of boring science…or, I could call upon a good friend of ours who happens to be a serious composter. 

Jared is a husband, father, bocce champion, blogger, and avid gardener.  His family grows everything from strawberries to squash in their hill-top garden, and his two young daughters are growing up the best way kids can- with their hands in the dirt.  He has taken time to educate us on the fundamentals of composting here on the blog.  Thank you so much, Jared!


My favorite chore growing up was mowing the lawn.  I sat on the front step on Saturday mornings as the sun slowly burned the dew off the grass, and as soon as the Colorado landscape went dry, I pulled the cord on our family’s old Toro and I made our lawn look like the outfield grass where the Rockies played.  I took a lot of pride in that chore, and if I wasn’t satisfied with how our lawn looked, I fixed it.  Sometimes the wheels from the mower pressed the grass down without cutting it, and the next day, when the grass had straightened, there were narrow rows of long, messy grass where the wheels had trod.  I hated this.  Those unkempt strips of grass tormented me.  On Sunday afternoons I could be found on my knees in the grass, pulling those uncut strips down to size with my bare hands.  It was an obsession.  And to this day I can’t help but notice when a lawn has been sloppily tended.

There were other things too.  I would reset the Nintendo no matter how far into my Tecmo Super Bowl football season if I lost a game or if Barry Sanders didn’t rush for 100 yards (yah, I was always the Lions).  And after a snowfall, nobody was allowed to walk in the part of the yard visible from my bedroom window.  I didn’t want to see footprints or exposed grass.  I needed to gaze out over a smooth, pristine blanket of white.  It was an obsession.   

Why do you care?  You probably don’t.  But I tell you this to give you an idea of why I can sometimes be found digging through my own trash looking for potato peels or apple cores that may have gotten thrown out within the chaos of trying to clean the kitchen before our two-year-old climbs her little sister’s hi-chair and force-feeds her a biter biscuit.  Composting has become a bit of an obsession of mine, and it bothers me when I see a luscious piece of organic scrap being truly wasted in the trash.  So I shake out my rags over the compost can, and I empty the sink-trap the same way, and sometimes I paw through our trash looking for those precious, forgotten kitchen scraps.  That’s just how it is now.


So I warn you now, before you read any further, if you are anything like me and tend to get carried away over certain fascinations, composting may become an obsession.  A worthy and fun and rewarding obsession, but one that may have you chasing the garbage truck down the road because you just realized you accidentally dumped all your watermelon rinds in the trash the previous night.  The horror!  The horror!

With that being said, here’s an overview of some basic composting guidelines which should serve as a helpful starting place for reducing waste and generating healthy soil for your garden or houseplants. 

What is compost?

I’ll spare you the scientific details and give you the gist of it:  Compost is the nutrient rich dirt that’s produced when organic material undergoes the natural decomposition process.

We all paid attention in middle-school science class, we know that any material that was once alive, if left outside long enough, will break down and become dirt.  And we’ve seen the cool Sun Chips commercials where the bag decomposes in time-lapse.  Pretty nifty.  What composting does, however, is expedite and intensify that natural process by combining a healthy mix of organic materials into a single system — perhaps a pile in your backyard, a large bin in your garden, or a crate on your porch.  It’s really that simple. 

What kind of stuff is compost-able?

The short answer:  Anything that was once alive. 


This is what amazes people when they start composting – they can’t believe how much stuff can actually be composted.  The internet is full of these lists so I won’t offer an extensive summary here, but some of the more common items are: fruit and vegetable scraps; most paper products (including coffee filters, brown bags, egg cartons, etc.); most baked goods (yah, those burned cookies should go in the compost, not the trash); plant waste (decorative flowers, wreaths, leaves, grass-clippings); and even clothing scraps (cotton, wool, silk). 

In the majority of households, the things that can’t be composted should be rather obvious:  glass, metal, plastic, rubber (although, latex can).  Also, I would avoid heavily soiled paper products like pizza boxes.  And as far as food goes, meats and dairy aren’t good – they take a long time to decompose and tend to attract the wrong kinds of pests.

So that’s the general breakdown between compostables and non-compostables.    And while that seems pretty simple, there are a few other things to consider. 

First, healthy compost requires a good mix of “green” (nitrogen) and “brown” (carbon) materials.  “Brown materials” are those that are woody – things like leaves, paper, dry stems, dead grass and hay.  “Green” materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, fresh flowers, green grass, and egg shells.  Again, you can find more extensive lists elsewhere, but as a guiding concept, those more juicy, luscious scraps tend to be nitrogen based, while the dry, crinkly scraps tend to be carbon based.  An even balance of both types of materials is needed for healthy compost.

I encourage you not to let this “green” and “brown” balance intimidate you.  After a little experience with your own compost and the type of waste generated in your home, keeping a healthy mix will become intuitive.  You don’t need to weigh and measure your greens and browns or run to the internet every time you come across some material you don’t know how to classify.  There is no exact science, and natural processes like composting tend to take care of themselves.  In general, if your compost pile looks like a heap of dead twigs, you need to add more juicy “greens.”  If your compost looks like a pile of wet mush and it smells like ammonia, it’s time to add some “browns.”   So really, it’s not all that complex; just be willing to experiment and adjust.


But we still need to consider a few other things when developing compost and deciding how to use the waste generated in our homes – we need to ask the question:  What is the best use of this “waste” item?

The driving consideration in our homes shouldn’t necessarily be whether or not something is compostable, but what’s the best use of any given item that we are throwing out.  So for this consideration, I offer four ways of categorizing the discarded materials in our homes.

The first question regarding anything we are throwing out should be, can this item be reused?  This applies to the usual things like plastic bottles, yogurt tubs, baggies, and jars, but even compostable items should first be considered for potential re-use.  Different sorts of paper products and fabrics can be used in all sorts of creative ways, and so for materials like these I would suggest ­re-use rather than compost.

Many compostable materials cannot and should not be reused, so once we’ve addressed that first consideration we should ask, is this material good for my compost?  Obviously, if it’s not compostable material then the answer is no.  But even with compostable materials, not all are good for your compost at all times.  Like I’ve said, compost needs a good balance of “green” and “brown,” so trying to compost your whole Sunday paper with only an apple core and carrot stick probably isn’t going to work.

Since most of our households do tend to produce a lot more “brown” material than “green,” the next best thing is to recycle.  Thus our third consideration is, can this material be recycled?  Most recycling services can handle a variety of paper products, so most of those “browns” that would dry up your compost can simply be recycled.  Familiarize yourself with your recycling service and take advantage.

And lastly, if your waste material can’t be re-used, composted, or recycled, it may just have to go in the trash.  But if composting becomes as exciting for you as it is for me, you could find yourself digging through that trash, making sure all your marvelous kitchen scraps find their rightful resting place, where they can someday become the soil that nourishes the peas and carrots that nourish you. 


I hope this serves as a helpful introduction to the work of composting.  These tips should be enough to get you started, even if it means simply throwing your scraps in a bucket in the kitchen for the time being.  And please join us for my next post as we discuss in more detail the management and use of compost throughout the gardening cycle.


Reuse Tues: Coffee Cans, Candy Wrappers & Window Frames

Posted on October 26th, 2010 by Tonia 2 Comments

Happy Tuesday!  A bunch of you tweeted me some great ideas this week for reusing old things in new ways.  Thanks so much for participating!  As Mike and I {slowly…much too slowly} unpack our belongings and settle in to our new house, we have already had the chance to re-use some things in new ways:  Our old kitchen table became my new office desk, and an old entertainment center became my sewing-room storage.

@smilinggreenmom tweeted me this link with some great craft projects using candy wrappers {perfect timing…Halloween candy sure does produce a lot of trash!}  A sweet little headband:

Jason, in the comments, said a friend of his gave him the idea to use old window frames as picture frames.  This is a seriously cute idea and makes me excited for garage-sale season.

I found this Design*Sponge post about using window frames to make a little garden table, too!

And this project puts old coffee cans to a beautiful new use:

I’m feeling all inspired to do a few projects now.  You can look forward to a step-by-step DIY ReuseTues project post coming soon!  And keep tweeting me your own projects/ideas/links as well!

No Waste Recipe: Polenta e Fagiano

Posted on October 21st, 2010 by Tonia 8 Comments

122 lbs [of food]. That’s how much enters the waste stream each month from the average American home (family of four). Ridiculous, sad, and incredible at the same time, isn’t it? A study conducted in 1995 estimated that 96.4 billion pounds of edible food was wasted each year — not to mention all of that probably went straight into the landfill.”

This quote is from this blog, which is where I also found this awesome/scary diagram of food waste in an average American home.

Food waste is an issue we all deal with approximately three times a day.  It’s especially troublesome for non-composting households.  I can’t count how many times I’ve cringed as I’ve scraped our leftovers into the garbage can, and I know firsthand that cooking for only two people is tricky…you either end up with more food than you can eat, or you air to the other side and then end up still hungry at the end of the meal!

I really appreciate it when I find a tasty recipe that makes enough food, yet creates little or no waste.  My Nonna {Italian name for grandmother} was the queen of no-waste-cooking.  She had a huge family and many mouths to feed, and she did so every day with a mystifyingly accurate eye for quantity/proportions.

There was rarely any leftovers after Nonna’s meals– not only because everyone was always licking every last delicious drop off their plates, but also because many of her well-loved recipes came straight from their small village in northern Italy, where people have limited resources.  When they cook, they use ALL of something in the process…nothing is wasted.

I am an itty-bit zealous about my Italian heritage, so I’m going to take this opportunity to say that Italy is awesome.  :)

The following recipe, straight from my Nonna’s cookbook, uses an entire chicken {the heart, the liver, everything}.  You will be delighted at how little you waste when making this meal!  Don’t be intimidated by the look of the recipe…if I can do it, trust me, you can do it.  It makes a lot of servings, so feel free to cut it in half if you’re cooking for less than about four people.

If it’s your first time dealing with a whole chicken, you might find this video helpful.  However, the chef in the video is using a chicken that has already had its heart and other organs removed.  For this recipe, you want all those organs for the sauce.  Simply reach inside the chicken’s chest cavity and scoop out the heart, liver, and gizzard before you begin cutting it up.

Pheasant or Chicken:

2-4 pheasants cleaned well and cut up, or 1 whole chicken

2-5 cloves minced garlic

large bunch of fresh Italian parsley {flat leaf}, finely chopped

2-3 onions, chopped

1/4 lb finely chopped chicken livers/heart/gizzard {basically any inside-parts you removed while cutting up your chicken}

1/4 stick butter

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tea. cinnamon

1 tea. fresh rosemary leaves, minced

3 bay leaves

1/4 lb porcini mushrooms {they usually come dried and chopped}

salt, to taste

fresh course ground black pepper, to taste

1 small {6 oz} can of Contadina brand tomato paste, dissolved in 2 cups water

Assemble and prepare all the above items before you begin to saute.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large sauce pan {even better, a deep Dutch oven, iron sauce pan, or heavy gauge pot.  You’ll need the extra space once you add the pheasants}.

Saute garlic, parsley and onions in oil and butter until parsley is bright green.

Add chicken livers, mushrooms, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Continue to saute five more minutes.

Cook pheasant pieces in saute mixture until brown.

Add tomato paste mixed with water.  Lower heat and cook over medium flame in covered pot for one hour, then uncover and cook until sauce thickens {usually another hour}.

cooking the chicken sauce


4 cups cold water

4 cups course ground yellow corn meal

2 1/2 tea. salt

Mix 3 ingredients together, set aside.

Boil 11 cups water in deep kettle.

Slowly add cold mixture of corn meal to boiling water, stirring continuously.

Simmer for 1/2 hour with cover, then remove cover and continuously stir with wooden spoon for 15-20 min until done.  The goal is to avoid lumps.  The polenta should be a creamy, smooth texture {about the thickness of hot cereal} when done.

Stir in a slice of butter at the end, to enhance the creamy texture.

Pour into glass baking dish and set aside.

When the polenta is done, serve up with sauce and shredded pamigiano cheese and eat immediately.


polenta y pollo